Time to climb table, warns McDonald
IT was an admission that spoke volumes for the position in which Middlesbrough find themselves after 19 games of the season. We're second bottom of the league, said Scott McDonald, after trekking through the snow to preview this afternoon's game at Coventry City. That tells a story, so the first priority has to be to get out of the bottom three. It is bottom three in this league isn't it Jeez, I guess that just shows you how much I know about all of this. Almost half of the season gone, and far from living up to their billing as promotion favourites, Middlesbrough are facing an almighty battle just to avoid relegation to League One. Needless to say, this wasn't how it was meant to be. Not for chairman Steve Gibson, who sanctioned a significant summer spending spree in an attempt to regain top-flight status. Not for the players who dropped out of the Premier League 18 months ago, and who would surely have been anticipating a swift return. And certainly not for recent arrivals such as McDonald, who were lured to Teesside by the promise of a place among the English elite. Hopes and expectations have changed, but is it possible to simply flick a mental switch in December and transform yourself from title contender to battler against the drop Play for Scunthorpe, and with the greatest of respect, you probably expect to be in the lower reaches of the table at the turn of the year. Play for Middlesbrough, however, and it must surely come as quite a shock. I've never really looked at this end of this division, and I don't suppose too many of our boys have, said McDonald. But it's time to start looking at it seriously now because we're getting towards halfway through the season and we are where we are. There's a lot of football still to play, but you don't want to get carried away saying, We're not going to finish in the bottom three', because anything can happen in football. It would be disrespectful to the rest of the teams in the league to say we're better than anyone else. Clearly we're not at the minute, because we're second bottom. We're a massive club, but massive clubs have slipped down the Football League before. You look at Leeds and Norwich and teams like that. It's not an impossibility, but maybe frights like that help you to realise that it can happen. I don't necessarily think having a bit of a fright is a bad thing. Provided, of course, you take the necessary steps to ensure the unwanted surprise goes away. Boro first dropped into the relegation zone in mid-October, and while they briefly rallied after back-toback wins over Crystal Palace and Scunthorpe, a monthand- a-half later, they find themselves back in the bottom three. You can quibble about the deficiencies in Gordon Strachan's squad-building programme until the cows come home, but what is undeniable is that the former Boro boss put his side together in anticipation of a promotion fight. Given that most players have spent their career in either the English Premier League or the upper reaches of the SPL, do they possess the mental and physical attributes required to succeed in the bottom half of the Championship For myself, it wasn't always the heights of being at Celtic, said McDonald. I was at Motherwell for a long time and there was a couple of scares when we could have got relegated. A lot of these players were here when we got relegated, so they've been in a tough situation before and that will help. There's been a lot of money spent here, so expectations were high. It's up to us as players to get things right. We owe it to the football club, the chairman and the fans. We owe it to them to prove we're worthy of putting that shirt on. McDonald's shirt will go back on at the Ricoh Arena this afternoon, with the Australian expected to retain his place in the starting line-up after scoring his third Championship goal of the season in last weekend's 2-2 draw with Hull City. In January, the striker will travel to represent his country in the Asian Cup, another reminder of the kind of exalted status that is threatened by Boro's position at the foot of the league. Obviously, things have not worked out as you would have hoped, said McDonald. It's not what you dreamed of happening, and that's disappointing. But you're as much a part of it as anyone else. You make your own bed. I wouldn't look back and turn back the clock. I'm here, I'm a man, and I'm ready to get on with it.
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